As this is the most used tool in our intranet (people need to contact other people), improving the service contributes measurably to our staff's capacity to collaborate and discover the information necessary in their roles.
The more we can streamline people discovery, the more time we can save staff.
Thus far discussions have focused on our own experiences across a number of online staff directories over the years.
For my contribution to the discussion, from my experience over a twenty year span, the first staff directories were based on the paper phone directories used before intranets were common - alphabetical lists of names, titles, teams and phone numbers, divided by region or area.
These lists - and intranet directories - were useful in finding a known person, were you could identify their name and area.
However they had more difficulty in locating unknown people - subject matter experts - as area and team names did not always reflect their activities and without knowing who to contact it was hard to find an appropriate name.
Also traditional staff directories are only name, number and rank - they do not provide details on skills, relationships or communities, which help link people collaborate more effectively.
Therefore I've described three cases I want our future staff directory to cover.
1) Locating details for known people
- Finding contact details and physical locations (the basics of a directory)
- Discovering the skills, subject matter expertise, internal networks and communities of these people (a profile-based approach to help staff broaden their engagement with others)
- Placing these people in the organisation structure (via a dynamic organisational chart - therefore enabling staff to identify substitutes and managers when people are absent)
- Ability to search on skills, topics or networks to find people with the expert knowledge required (the experts might be unknown to the searcher, or known people for whom the searcher was unaware they had this expertise)
- Ability to search for networks of people sharing specific skills or subject matter expertise, in order to link in with them to form formal or informal Communities of Practice
As part of these cases, we're considering Facebook and LinkedIn style features, such as,
- staff profiles, to provide staff with the opportunity to humanise their listing and be more visible as an expert in their field
- optional staff photos (so you can identify with a person when calling or emailing, or recognise them when first meeting)
- linking of skills, topics and interests, so that clicking on a word provides details on other staff who have indicated similar expertise or knowledge
- Listing affiliations, to internal project teams and other formal and informal networks or communities within the organisation, to assist the formation of Communities of Practice and to build staff engagement with the agency.
Involvement in all of these areas would be optional, allowing staff to better self-manage their privacy. However, as in any situation involving information sharing, you get greater value when you share than when you silo knowledge.
Over time this approach lends itself to integration with collaboration tools, forums, wikis, groups and blogs, as well as team-based tools such as group calendars and mailing lists.
We've been looking online for reference material on the topic of staff directories, drawing on the experiences of a number of private sector organisations who have implemented similar types of directories.
A couple of the resources we've found useful include,
- Intranet Life: The potential of the staff Directory...
- Step Two: Staff directories benefit from cross-linking
- Step Two: Online staff directories: survey results and key findings
- and this video from Shel Holzman on Web 2.0 in the workplace
I'm very interested in the experiences of other government and private sector organisations in this space - so drop me a comment if you have suggestions to add.